It’s Cheap To Be Rich

Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight blog posted a piece by Ben Casselman this morning with the title,

Inflation May Hit the Poor Hardest

Yeah, well, Mr. Casselman, everything hits the poor hardest. A bad economy. A good economy. Everything. You know why? Because they’re bleeping poor, that’s why. But to be fair to the author, he was making a point about the fact that not everyone experiences the same rate of inflation. He begins his piece with this:

It’s getting more expensive to be poor.

He says that “families earning less than $20,000,” because they spend a disproportionate amount of their money on things like rent and utilities,

are experiencing a higher rate of inflation than the public at large even as their wages have stagnated…

The poor experience a double whammy: stagnating wages and a higher rate of inflation that eats away a disproportionate share of their purchasing power. And it is even worse than that. Just watch last night’s 60 Minutes segment on the working poor in Virginia’s part of Appalachia. Those folks are not only victims of a faltering local economy, but they are victims of the Republican Party in Virginia, a party that refuses to allow those poor working people to get the health insurance they are entitled to under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision.

So, you’re damned right it is expensive to be poor in America.

But it is damned cheap to be rich.

Sheldon Adelson, from whom God sometimes has to borrow money till payday, is looking to buy himself a Republican presidential candidate for the 2016 race. Last time he spent almost $100 million in a losing effort. But don’t feel sorry for him. He made almost that much in two special hours last week. In any case, he told Forbes that this time he will “spend whatever it takes” to win. And whatever it takes will still be cheap for him.Republican Billionaire Sheldon Adelson

Unfortunately there are plenty of Republicans who want to be bought by Sheldon Adelson, including presidential hopefuls like Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and the groveling Chris Christie, who if Adelson buys him will be getting a bargain, somewhere around $250,000 a pound—and that’s if Adelson only gives another paltry $100 million. Very cheap for a commander-in-chief who could blow up your enemies.

The Supreme Court, staffed by five conservative Republicans who believe that rich people should have a megaphone that matches their money, have now made it easier for Adelson and other moneyed folks to buy up what is left of American democracy. And although there ain’t much left to buy, thanks to Citizens United, what is left won’t cost those wealthy folks all that much. Last year Sheldon Adelson made about $22,000 a minute. In eleven short minutes he made enough to buy a pound of Chris Christie or a half-pound of Jeb! No problem! Cheap, cheap, cheap.

In the mean time, it remains very expensive to be poor, especially in western Virginia where, because of Republicans, folks have to rely on the occasional visits of two saintly nurses driving a raggedy 13-year-old Winnebago-turned-”Health Wagon” in order to stay alive.

health wagon2

An Erstwhile Conservative Exclusive: The Devil On ObamaCare

Tonight, of course, is the soft deadline for getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. I have been trying for months to get an interview with Satan himself so that I could get his take on all the controversy surrounding the new health care law. Finally, after a lot of effort, I was able to get the old devil to sit down for what I hope is only one of many interviews to come:

THE ERSTWHILE CONSERVATIVE: Thank you for your time. I know you’re busy on this important day for America, so I will make this quick. I guess my first question is: How hard have you been working to make sure the Affordable Care Act fails?

SATAN: Well, I’m glad you ask me that. Obviously it is in my interest that this plan fail and fail miserably. And because of that, I assigned several divisions of demons the task of destroying what we in hell sarcastically refer to as “ObamaCare”—a term your president, in what some thought was a moment of tactical brilliance, adopted in order to dull the force of the point, even though I think we have still succeeded, as the polls show, in dirtying the thing with his name.

I have put so many of my demonic assets into this massive and massively negative effort that we are a little short-staffed in other areas, like helping to deny people unemployment benefits and food stamps or making sure they don’t vote this fall in the mid-term elections. But I think we’ve done such a good job in the House the last few years that we’ll be okay. I just had to be sure that we were doing all we could to make sure people don’t sign up for affordable health care. The sicker and more fearful people are the better, as far as I’m concerned.

TEC: I see, I see. Just what do these anti-ObamaCare demons do?

SATAN: Well, the largest number of them get people to do things like lie about the law in print and on the Internet and on television. I think you know where I’m going here—

TEC:—Yes, yes, I do know where you’re going and I wanted to ask you about that—

SATAN—Oh, I’m happy to tell you about it. Journalism, or what passes for journalism these days, is very important in my business. We specialize, as you know, in using the trade to spread false information about a lot of things, from Obama’s birth certificate to Benghazi to phony vaccination controversies. The latter disinformation campaign has allowed us to gain back valuable ground we RougeoleDP.jpglost to those damned scientists who have found ways of combating many of the wonderful diseases I’ve been spreading around. Thanks to all the disinformation work we do, measles is making a comeback!  

TEC: Yes, you have done a great job in terms of spreading harmful lies, I must say.

SATAN: Yes, I have. And I’m damned proud of it. Jesus called me the Father of Lies, you know. 

TEC: Yes, I know that. He also said you were “a murderer from the beginning.”

SATAN: I know, I know. He is too kind sometimes! I’m very proud of the work I do and it feels great when you get recognized for doing a good job. Thank you, Jesus!

TEC: Besides spreading lies and misinformation about ObamaCare, what else are you doing to kill health reform?

SATAN: Well, obviously, merely lying about what the law is supposed to do and is actually doing isn’t enough because the other side has those awful truth-tellers out there who are always working against us. For that reason I assigned some Special Forces units—Rulers of Darkness we call them at home—to take the good news about ObamaCare out there and, like magic, turn it into bad news! Those Rulers of Darkness are amazing little devils!

TEC: Can you give us an example of how these Rulers of Darkness work? That sounds fascinating.

SATAN: Of course I can. Just the other day on Fox and Friends—God, how I love that show!—we had the co-hosts suggest that Obama is signing up Mexicans to get the enrollment numbers up! 

TEC: Mexicans?

SATAN: Yes! Mexicans! Isn’t that awesome? The fiendish discussion was an attempt to turn the positive fact that more than 6 million have signed up into a negative fact that the only reason the number is so high is because “illegals” are signing up at Mexican Consulates. Amazing isn’t it?

TEC: That is amazing.

SATAN: One of the co-hosts even mentioned some work I did back in 2009!

TEC: What was that?

SATAN: Don’t you remember when congressman Joe Wilson shouted out “You lie!” during Obama’s 2009 address to Congress? It was during the part where Obama said that the new law “would not apply to those who are here illegally.” Come on, I got personally involved in that one. You have to remember. Next to getting Sarah Palin to use the term “death panel,” that whole Joe Wilson thing was the best political work I did that year. You have to remember—

TEC: Of course I remember. Who could forget that?

SATAN: Well, the Fox host said that maybe Joe Wilson “had a point” when he shouted “You lie!” at the President. I tell you those Rulers of Darkness demons know how to put on a show! And you know what effect this kind of stuff is having? Let me give you an important example. There are families out there where either the husband or wife are not U.S. citizens, but their children are. And these folks are scared that if they sign their kids up for health insurance coverage that the government will move in and destroy their family through deportation. Thus, Latino enrollment in ObamaCare is far behind their population numbers and, as a hellish bonus, the kids are going to go without health care! Isn’t that awesome! I mean, trying to kill ObamaCare has featured some of hell’s finest work! People may actually die!

TEC: Speaking of that, how were you able to get all those Republican governors and legislatures to not expand Medicaid? I mean it makes good economic sense to expand insurance coverage and it certainly makes good Christian morals sense to do so, and since Republicans consider themselves to be economic and moral savants, it must have been hard to get, so far, 24 states controlled by Republicans to shut the door on the poorest of Americans and deny them health insurance, right?

SATAN: Wrong. It was pretty damn easy to tell you the truth (which I rarely do). All we had to do was make sure people connected the whole thing with that Scary Negro in the White’s House, and then talk radio and Fox, where some of our top-notch lying spirits are employed, took it from there. The result is that Republican politicians in all those states would not now dare expand Medicaid and make health insurance available to those who need it. And, again, more people will die! But I don’t want talk radio and Fox to get all the credit for the whole Medicaid expansion thing. I want to give a shout out to the demons we have assigned to the Supreme Court.

TEC: Huh?

SATAN: Yes, I know. Most people forgot what happened in 2012 when the Court unfortunately found ObamaCare constitutional. Under the original law, states were required to expand Medicaid or else lose Medicaid funding. But our guys, having failed to get Justice Roberts to strike down the damned law, made a nice recovery—I was about to come down hard on them— in getting him to agree to give states a choice in participating in the Medicaid expansion. And that opt-out has worked much better than we could have imagined.

TEC: How so?

SATAN: Well, I brought with me something that I’d like to read to you, if you don’t mind. It’s from the website Health Affairs, which was started by a bunch of worthless liberal do-gooders with the disgusting name of Project HOPE—damn how I hate that name! Anyway, I usually get all goose-pimply reading this, so bare with me, but it explains the effects of the failure to expand Medicaid:

Based on recent data from the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, we predict that many low-income women will forego recommended breast and cervical cancer screening; diabetics will forego medications, and all low-income adults will face a greater likelihood of depression, catastrophic medical expenses, and death. 

Isn’t that juicy? Isn’t that wonderful? I am so proud of that and of our guys at the Supreme Court.

TEC: I can see it in your face. Look, I know you have to go, and again I thank you for your time on this important day, but I want to ask you one more question: What do you think is your biggest achievement related to the Affordable Care Act?

SATAN: Man, that’s a hard one. There are so many. Let me see. Some would say that getting the Republican Party to cheer for the failure of the law would be a big accomplishment. Others might say that getting the news media to ignore how much effort Republicans have put into seeing to it that the law fails is a big deal. But I would have to say it comes back to those deaths I mentioned. We’re all about suffering and death where I come from and I admit I’m a bit prejudiced, but the probable fact that thousands of people suffer and die each year, at least partly because they don’t have health insurance, is something those of us on our side celebrate daily. I don’t much care if the number is 45,000 a year or something lower—obviously I want that number to be as high as possible—but as long as people are suffering and dying unnecessarily I am as happy as any devil has a right to be.

TEC: Thank you. I hope we can talk again real soon.

SATAN: I’ll be looking forward to it.

Lucifer

“When It Is In Your Power To Act”

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—
when you already have it with you.”

—Proverbs 3:27-28

medicaid expansion is not yet a reality here in Missouri, if it ever will be. But it is also struggling in Virginia and Arkansas (which already has a privatized version of it that needs reauthorized in order to continue). Expansion is struggling in those states even though both, like Missouri, have Democratic governors and even though a majority of people in both states favor expanding the program:56 to 38 in Virginia, including 55% support among Republicans, and 47.5 to 32.5 in Arkansas. (And there is good evidence that Missourians favor expansion too).

The Washington Post editorial page a couple of days ago featured this explanation of what is going on in Virginia, part of which I highlight for your contemplation:

In Richmond, House GOP lawmakers have made it clear they are not interested in compromise, nor do they wish to be bothered much with the facts. Mr. McAuliffe (D), in office barely a month, has tried schmoozing and executive mansion hospitality; he is nothing if not a deal-maker. The Republicans have responded with derision and fighting words. For them, it is enough to demonize Medicaid expansion as a function of Obamacare, and hope the resulting slogans carry the day — no matter what the cost to hundreds of thousands of struggling state residents who have no health insurance.

Demonizing Obamacare, the only thing Republicans can do effectively these days, has become, of course, a way of demonizing Obama. And it works in some places. In fact, it is working very well in Arkansas, as Seth Millstein points out (which I also highlight for your contemplation):

Arkansas residents strongly support expanding Medicaid under Obamcare — that is, until you tell them the expansion is part of Obamacare. Then they don’t support it anymore. In yet another indication of how successfully Republicans have tarnished the nickname for the Affordable Care Act, a new poll of Arkansans showed that net support for the state’s private Medicaid expansion drops by 19 points when you include the word “Obamacare” in the polling questionsArkansas residents, it seems, just don’t want to like Obamacare, regardless of what’s in it.

Sad, no? And what is sadder is the fact that the only clear demonstration of competence on the part of Republican officeholders and their mouthpieces on talk radio and Fox TV is their skill in transforming Obama into Satan in so many supposedly God-fearing places.

And speaking of God-fearing places, look at this graphic based on polling done by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

medicaid expansion in the south

Hell, where the Bible says eternal torment awaits “all liars,” will freeze over before Republican politicians in the Jesus-loving states listed above pay any attention to such polling. Because lying about President Obama, in the strange and dark religion of conservative politics, covers a multitude of sins, especially the sin of ignoring the basic needs of so many disadvantaged Americans.

Roy Blunt’s Moocher Talk And What’s Wrong With It

Not only has the Affordable Care Act been attacked by Republicans for being a government takeover of the healthcare system or for creating death panels that will kill your grandparents in their sleep or for busting the federal budget and your own or for limiting your choice of policies and doctors, now the GOP has a new line of attack: ObamaCare is creating more moochers!

Even though that whole moocher thing didn’t work so well in the 2012 presidential election, it is so much a part of the right-wing’s dogma about Democrats and Democratic constituencies that they simply can’t let it go.

Roy Blunt, my own senator, appeared on this week’s Fox “News” Sunday. And, of course, he followed the newest ObamaCare’s-a-moocher-maker script on what Republicans should say in response to the release of the CBO’s analysis of some of the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the nation’s labor supply.blunt on fox

Before we get to what Blunt said, let’s look at the question Chris Wallace asked him and the way that question was set up for him and the way the reactionaries want us all to understand the issue. Wallace played a cherry-picked clip of Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf’s testimony before the House Budget Committee last Wednesday. Here’s a transcript of the clip Wallace played:

DOUG ELMENDORF, CBO DIRECTOR: By providing heavily subsidized health insurance to people with very low income and then withdrawing those subsidies as income rises, the act creates a disincentive for people to work, relative to what would have been the case in the absence of that act.

Wallace stopped the clip there. What Fox viewers (and Roy Blunt) didn’t hear was what Elmendorf said next:

Now these subsidies, of course, makes those lower income people better off.

Yes. He said that. Right after he talked about the disincentive to work. He said that these folks would be better off. And he continued to explain:

This is an implicit tax, not the sort of tax we normally think about where if the government raises our taxes, we are worse off and face the disincentive to work more. Providing a subsidy, people are better off but they do have less of an incentive to work and I think they would respond to that by working somewhat less.

As you can see, the whole idea that folks would stop working or reduce the time they spend working is essentially based on what economists “think they would respond to” in terms of being better off because of the ACA. And it turns out that the CBO’s number-crunchers were influenced by the work of a conservative economist, as Jonathan Chait (“How Obamacare Became the New Welfare”) notes:

The Congressional Budget Office’s budget update last week surprisingly adapted an analysis, advocated by conservative economist Casey Mulligan, that Obamacare would induce the equivalent of two million full-time jobs in reduced labor. Now, in addition to its previously recited horrors, Obamacare was taking money from hard-working Americans to finance indolence.

Mr. Mulligan has been an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act from the start. Last October he criticized it for—sound familiar?—creating “a reduction in the reward for working” and suggested that its full implementation this year might cause “a recessionary double-dip.” So, he’s not a fan of the law, and it is unclear why the CBO embraced some of his thinking as to the effects it will have on the labor supply.

politics 1984 IS HEREBut such thinking is part of the long-time conservative critique of Democrats and their fondness for safety-net programs. On Sunday, Chris Wallace asked former-intellectual-turned-Fox-commentator George Will: “is giving people a cheaper way to get health insurance without working so much — is that a good thing or a bad thing?” As he always does, as he is no doubt required to do to get his big paycheck from Fox, Will took aim at liberals:

People forget Social Security was advocated, Chris, in the 1930s, as a way of getting people to quit working, because they thought we were confined to a permanent scarcity of jobs in this country. Second, it is the point of progressivism to put in front of the American people an increasingly rich menu of temptation to dependency on government. In order to change social norms and eventually national character, the president said, “I want to fundamentally change America,” and these disincentives to work are part of it.

Of course! President Obama and the Democratic Party want people to be dependent on government. They want people to stay in what Paul Ryan called the “poverty trap.” They want all Americans to quit working and become moochers. Makes perfect sense, right? That idea, which Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing radio personalities have aggressively pushed for more than two decades now, is what Republicans want voters to now specifically associate with “ObamaCare.”

But what about that idea? What about that poverty trap? You might be surprised. Jonathan Chait writes:

What’s more, as Jared Bernstein and Edwin Park point out, by lifting the threshold for who gets subsidized insurance, Obamacare actually reduces this poverty trap. Before Obamacare expanded it, Medicaid had extremely low income thresholds. It varies state by state, but the average state cut off Medicaid to people earning just 61 percent of the poverty line, a pitifully low sum. If you’re a single parent in Texas, you lose your Mediciad if you earn more than $3,600 a year. A family of two in Alabama loses its Medicaid once its income, after deductions, hits the lofty sum of $2,832 a year. That’s a severe incentive to keep poor people from obtaining full-time work.

Of course, Texas is boycotting Obamcare’s Medcaid expansion, and is thus keeping in place this strong incentive for its poorest citizens to stay out of the workforce. (If conservatives are worried about fostering a culture of dependency in these Obamacare-boycotting red states, they are keeping their fears very, very quiet.) The states choosing to expand Medicaid are correspondingly increasing the incentive for the very poor to enter the workforce.

As the above-cited economist Jared Bernstein makes clear:

During a hearing today on the latest CBO report, Rep. Paul Ryan declared the health care law to be “a poverty trap.”  He’s way off base.  In fact, he’s got it backwards…

None of this is to deny the CBO’s point that some people with incomes above the poverty level will choose to work less to avoid reductions in their premium subsidy.  But those choices are not the ones faced by the poor who live in states where the ACA is the law of the land.  In those states, the law has thoroughly reversed the poverty trap.  Rep. Ryan should know that and correct the misimpression he’s created.

Of course Paul Ryan, Roy Blunt, or any Republican for that matter, will not correct any of the misimpressions, not to say lies, they have created. And many mainstream journalists will continue to promote a false equivalence by reporting Republican misinformation and Democratic attempts to correct it as if both are morally equal and just part of the game of politics. Thus, if Democratic politicians want to keep their jobs and keep health insurance reform alive, it is up to them to get very aggressive in their defense of the ACA, especially with people like Roy Blunt running around and making mischief on television.

Which leads me finally to Blunt’s appearance on Fox yesterday. Chris Wallace, after playing the partial Elmendorf clip, asked Blunt this question:

WALLACE: Now, Republicans say this proves that ObamaCare is a job killer. Democrats say it means that fewer people will be locked into jobs. Senator Blunt, what is wrong with that, the idea of fewer people locked into jobs?

Now, of course Wallace knows that ObamaCare is not “a job killer.” The CBO report made clear and Elmendorf testified that the law would actually create jobs not kill them. But Wallace chose to set the question up by contrasting a Republican “job-killer” lie with a Democratic truth, to wit: the law allows some people to opt out of jobs they are locked into because of their need for employer-provided health insurance. And Blunt took the bait and further muddied the waters:

SEN. ROY BLUNT, R-MO.: Well, I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea. Why would we want to do that? Why would we think that was a good thing? How does that allow people to prepare for the time when they don’t work?

This number is about three times as big as the number that was on the table when people that voted for the president’s health care bill voted for it in 2009 and ’10 when the estimate was it would cost the equivalent of 800,000 full time jobs. Now, they’re saying 2.3 million, and the best face can you put on that is that means people that don’t want to work don’t have to work. Surely, that’s not what we want to encourage. And that’s what this law does encourage.

Let’s start with his first declaration: “I think any law you pass that discourages people from working can’t be a good idea.” Oh, yeah? The Social Security law discourages people from working. Lots and lots of them. And lots of them are Republicans. Is Social Security a bad idea, Senator Blunt? Is Medicare a bad idea because it also discourages people from working? Apparently, Blunt thinks that making it possible for people who have worked all their lives and simply want to exit the labor force into retirement is a bad thing. No wonder he supported the infamous Paul Ryan Medicare-mutilating budget plan. I guess people should just work until their dead.

But more than that, notice how Blunt, like all Republicans are now doing and will continue to do until election day this November, focuses on those alleged 2.3 million” people who “don’t want to work” or “don’t have to work.” That is essentially the argument that was made more generally during the 2012 election. Paul Ryan said the following at a fundraiser in June of that election year:

Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers?

The only difference now, in this election year, is that Republicans are targeting a specific effort by Democrats, embodied in the Affordable Care Act, to help low-income folks get affordable health insurance. And they think they have the CBO on their side this time.

elmendorfBut what about that CBO report and Director Elmendorf’s seemingly common-sense claim “that by providing a somewhat smaller incentive to work, somewhat fewer people would work”? Nobody argues that there won’t be some number of people who will do exactly what Elmendorf suggests they will do. As Jonathan Chait makes clear:

It is true that any means-tested government benefit will discourage some class of people from working. If a subsidy is available only for people below a certain income level, then people whose income approaches that income level will lose some incentive to earn more.

By its very nature, the concept of means-testing—which Republicans themselves have always embraced—involves people calculating whether working more actually makes them better off. People do that all the time when, for instance, they reach retirement age. The issue here is how many people will do what Elmendorf suggests. And relative to that issue Suzy Khimm (who used to be with the Washington Post’s Wonkblog) makes an excellent point:

It’s also worth taking the CBO’s findings with a grain of salt. The office had previously forecast that Obamacare would reduce the total hours worked by the equivalent of 800,000 workers, then updated its forecast based on more recent research. But one new study that CBO cited in its report actually “found no significant effect of Medicaid on employment or earnings” when Oregon expanded the program in 2008.

Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute, says such evidence makes him skeptical that Obamacare’s effect on the labor market will be as large as the CBO predicts. “I don’t think we’re going to see the kinds of reductions in labor supply that Elmendorf is talking bout today,” says Nichols. “We have also evidence from Massachusetts that doesn’t show a large impact.”

Paul Krugman wrote that the “reduced labor supply” noted by the CBO and exploited by dishonest Republicans does in fact add to “the true cost of health reform.” But he demonstrates, through what he calls “some pretty prosaic economics,” that the effects are fairly modest. He ends:

Should you care how much other people work? Yes, a little – but not so much that it should change anyone’s views about health reform.

The truth is that at this point nobody really knows, with any degree of legitimate certainty, what direct and indirect effects the Affordable Care Act will have not only on the labor supply, but on other areas of the economy. As I have said many times, the ACA is an experiment. Much more time and evidence is needed to figure out whether the law will work as designed, whether it will need significant changes, or whether it should be scrapped altogether. But we have one political party that does not want it to work, will not lift a finger to fix any problems with it, and wants only to kill it before it has had a chance to prove or disprove itself.

Unfortunately for Missourians—especially for those Missourians who could get health insurance were it not for Republicans blocking Medicaid expansion—Roy Blunt is part of that one political party.

ObamaCare May Work!

When I retired five years ago, I did not “lose” my job. Nobody fired me or laid me off or put me on furlough. I simply stopped working because I wanted to. I withdrew my contribution to the total supply of labor in the country.

However, in the minds of Republicans and other right-wingers exploiting the latest Congressional Budget Office report that discusses the effects of the Affordable Care Act on the labor market, my decision not to work is actually a job loss. Hooey.

Although there is plenty of lying—yes, lying—and misinforming going on in terms of what the CBO report said, I chose this headline from a Fox “News” article on the matter to represent the lies and misinformation:

ObamaCare could lead to loss of nearly 2.3 million US jobs, report says

More hooey. That CBO report, which is titled, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024,” did not—I repeat: did not—say that the ACA could lead to “nearly 2.3 million” job losses. And although it is nice to see that conservatives, after years of bashing the CBO’s reports, are now embracing the nerds’ number-crunching skills, those cherry-picking right-wingers should actually read the report.

First of all, it should be noted that the portion of the CBO’s budget analysis that deals with the future labor effects of the ACA is, like the rest of the projections in the document, an “estimate.” And it is not just an estimate, it is an estimate essentially (but certainly not entirely) of what real people, including many low-income people or people approaching retirement age, will do in the face of getting help from the government to purchase health insurance. Thus, that CBO estimate is based on suppositions about human psychology. Keep that in mind when you hear the hysteria coming from Republicans (or when you hear the good news below).

Secondly, we are not talking about a reduction in the demand for labor, but a reduction in the supply of labor. You know, sort of like when I reduced the supply of labor by retiring five years ago. There elmendorfwas still a demand for my (excellent) services, but I chose not to supply them. As I said, that’s not the same thing as a job loss. By the way, I just heard Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, say the same thing in testimony before the House Budget Committee.*

There are already a lot of great articles out there that explain what is going on (here and here and here and here, for instance). The following is an excerpt from an excellent report on the subject from the Los Angeles Times:

The CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs. There’s a big difference. In fact, it suggests that aggregate demand for labor (that is, the number of jobs) will increase, not decrease; but that many workers or would-be workers will be prompted by the ACA to leave the labor force, many of them voluntarily.

As economist Dean Baker points out, this is, in fact, a beneficial effect of the law, and a sign that it will achieve an important goal. It helps “older workers with serious health conditions who are working now because this is the only way to get health insurance. And (one for the family-values crowd) many young mothers who return to work earlier than they would like because they need health insurance. This is a huge plus.”

Democrats should continue to aggressively counter the right-wing messaging on this latest CBO report (we can’t count on journalists to get the story straight, what with their “they said, they said” reporting in which telling a lie is on an equal footing with telling the truth). And Democrats, following economist Dean Baker, should enthusiastically embrace the fact that what may happen (remember: it is an estimate) is that the ACA will actually do what it was designed to do. Just before President Obama signed the ACA into law in March of 2010, he said,

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

Basic security. Yes! The kind that may allow Dean Baker’s “older worker”—who has a serious health condition and needs health insurance provided by an employer—to opt out of the work force, or Baker’s “young mother” to stay at home and take care of her children. What family-values-hawking Republican could be against that?

Judging by their hatred of the Affordable Care Act, apparently every one of them.

_________________________________

* UPDATE: Here is what Elmendorf said:

If someone comes up to you and says, ‘Well, the boss said I’m being laid off because we don’t have enough business to pay me,’ that person feels bad about that and we sympathize with them for having lost their job. If someone comes to you and says, ‘I’ve decided to retire,’ or ‘I’ve decided to stay home and spend more time with my family,’ or ‘I’ve decided to spend more time doing my hobby’ –- they don’t feel bad about it, they feel good about it. And we don’t sympathize, we say congratulations. And we don’t say they’ve lost their job, we say they’ve chosen to leave their job.

Do Businesses Have A Moral Obligation To Their Workers? A Missouri Businessman Says They Do

As the ObamaCare experiment continues, critics are still wishing for, or in some cases trying to engineer, its absolute failure.

Obviously, if you have been following politics closely since 2008, you know that right-wingers want to undermine the Affordable Care Act largely because they believe that doing so would destroy the Obama presidency, a goal they sketched out at the beginning of his first term. These folks did not—and still do not—want this president to be transformative, to go down in history as someone who mattered. And if the ACA turns out to be successful, if the experiment works, it will mean that its presidential champion, and the political party that supported him, will matter a great deal.

Peter Wehner, a very conservative columnist, used to work for George W. Bush. But in Ayn Randish, Tea Party circles, he is considered a “neo-liberal” and a “statist” and one who promotes “wealth distribution.” That’s how far right the right-wing has drifted. In the real world, the world of facts, Wehner is an anti-Obama right-winger who thinks the failure of healthcare reform will not only “indict” the Obama administration, but will “hurt liberalism,” too. Why? Because such a failure would mean that the attempt to achieve “universal health care coverage,” something that liberals “have been aiming for for half a century,” will be politically dead, along with the Obama legacy.

A few days ago, Wehner wrote a piece titled “A Scenario for the Repeal of ObamaCare,” in which he quotes fellow right-winger Avik Roy as saying that if Republicans take over the White’s House and Senate in 2017, and if the number of “newly insured could be dwarfed by the political constituency of those harmed by the law,” then “President Obama’s signature legislation may not be long for this world.” To which Wehner responds:

If so, it would sink the Obama presidency, both in real time and in the eyes of history. Which is precisely what ought to occur.

So, there you have it. They want Obama’s graying scalp, even if it means hurting millions upon millions of uninsured and otherwise uninsurable folks. This stuff is personal.

And speaking of personal, a column that appeared recently in the Joplin Globe was also personal. Except in a good way. A local businessman, who holds a degree in chemistry and physics, wrote a piece (“The impact of ACA isn’t really ‘devastating’ at all”) that blew me away (thanks to blogger Jim Wheeler for the tip).

Kelly Meares, who co-founded and operates a business in Webb City, Mo., was inspired by Senator Roy Blunt’s invitation “to share horror stories and devastation brought upon fellow Missourians by the implementation of Obamacare.” Well, I’m sure Ol’ Roy didn’t expect this ironic reply from someone here in Southwest Missouri:

Thanks for the invitation to share the devastating impacts of Obamacare on our family. If you don’t mind, I will refer to it as the ACA instead of a hate-based euphemism. Yes, Obama has adopted the term hoping to neutralize it, but the Affordable Care Act was created by Congress and built on a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.

Because of the ACA, our business is suffering through lower insurance costs for the first time ever. In spite of staff aging up, our provider has lowered our premium costs. We were accustomed to double-digit increases for most of the last decade. 

Wow! Good ACA news for a change. And from a businessman! Meares goes on to note that an often overlooked provision in the ACA—the requirement that insurance companies in the individual and small group market have to spend at least 80% of premiums (85% for the large group market) Kelly Meares, founderon actual health care or else refund the difference to policyholders—resulted in 588,000 Missourians getting checks from their insurance companies in 2012.

Meares also notes that thanks to the ACA his young adult daughter “has had the security of insurance as a dependent on our policy since leaving college” and “will be able to transition to a plan on the exchange regardless of pre-existing conditions.” That is really “devastating stuff,” he mockingly tells Senator Blunt.

But what is really devastating, in terms of countering enemies of the ACA like Roy Blunt, is the following sweet sarcasm:

I fear that the ACA will allow hospitals and medical practitioners to spend less time chasing debtors and foreclosing on the homes of the unfortunate people who happen to have some assets but insufficient or no insurance coverage for whatever reason. The medicos will be liberated to practice medicine and will have less deadbeat debt to pass on to the paying customers.

And now mom-and-pop businesses that make the sacrifice to provide insurance for their employees will have a more level playing field against those businesses that neglect their moral obligation to their workers. Consider this — if your business model depends on a paying a non-living wage and pushing your workers into the safety net (provided by others), then you are not an entrepreneur; you are an exploiter. To borrow a popular hate phrase: You are not a producer; you are a parasite.

Dang! How refreshing to see reflected on the local paper’s opinion page, a page usually filled with anti-Obama and anti-ACA nonsense, the point of view of a businessman who believes that businesses ought not “neglect their moral obligation to their workers.” Heck, who around these parts even knew that businesses actually have a moral obligation to their workers? Fantastic stuff.

Mr. Meares urged “the Missouri GOP controlled statehouse” to “do the right thing” by expanding Medicaid in the state, which would affect 193,000 Missourians. Then he candidly admitted that the ACA is not the perfect solution, that “single payer” would be preferable. “But the doomsayers shot that down,” he says. Yes, they did. From the start there was very little consideration of a single-payer system, which is why, as this principled businessman said earlier, that the ACA was constructed with “a hodgepodge of Republican ideas in the hope of bipartisanship while still (regrettably) mollycoddling insurance companies.”

Meares then looked Roy Blunt in the eyes and told him,

Enough of the mock outrage and straw man arguments, please.

And he finished his remarkable column with this:

Of course, it’s human nature not to like the ACA simply because nobody actually wants insurance. Nobody wants hospitals or doctors. Everybody wants to live a healthy, non-medically entwined existence. But unless the GOP can deliver the latter, then you must do more to support the former instead of making political capital on our denial and obstructing the flawed solution.

I request that you serve the people of Missouri and reject the politics of GOP obstruction at all costs.

Bravo!

______________________________

[photo from the website of Kelly Meares' business]

Do Corporations Speak In Tongues?

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

—The Book of Acts, 2:4

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”                                                

—Paul the Apostle

I used to attend, quite faithfully, a Pentecostal-Charismatic church in which folks there spoke in tongues. Yes, they did. They stood up, usually during prayer time, and spoke in what sounded like a foreign language, a language many of them considered a heavenly language, such as an angel might speak, if there were angels. Many times after someone would speak to the congregation in tongues, someone else with an “interpretation” of the tongues would share it with the folks, this time in English. It was quite a phenomenon.

Now, I say all that in the context of what two corporations are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do in terms of an alleged constitutional controversy involving the Affordable Care Act and religious freedom. Here is how the great SCOTUSblog reported it yesterday:

The Court granted review of a government case (Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores) and a private business case (Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius).  Taking the Conestoga plea brought before the Court the claim that both religious owners of a business and the business itself have religious freedom rights, based on both the First Amendment and RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act].   The Hobby Lobby case was keyed to rights under RFRA.

Noting that these particular cases don’t involve asking the court to “strike down the requirement that employers provide a full range of pregnancy-related health care under their employees’ health insurance plans,” SCOTUSblog says,

This time, the Court will be focusing only on whether the pregnancy-related care coverage can be enforced against profit-making companies — or their individual owners, when that is a very small group — when the coverage contradicts privately held religious beliefs.

It is already clear, of course, that individuals — whether they own businesses or not — do have religious beliefs that the government may not try to regulate.  But it is not yet clear, and these cases will test the issue, whether they have a right — constitutional or based on a 1993 federal law — to rely upon those beliefs in refusing to provide a kind of health care coverage that they say violates the tenets of their faith.

On the other hand, it is not clear that a business that is formed as a corporation, and engages in a strictly commercial kind of activity, can have religious beliefs and can actually base its commercial actions upon such faith principles (separate from the religious beliefs of its owners).  The Court has never ruled on that issue, but that is one of the core issues it has now agreed to consider.

Okay. So, it pretty much boils down to this: Do corporations speak in tongues? Do corporations do the kinds of things that I saw done at my old church? Can corporations stand in the midst of the congregation and speak in the tongues of angels? Or even the tongues of men?

The answer, obviously, is no they can’t. You know why they can’t? Because corporations don’t have real tongues with which they can speak in ethereal tongues. Because corporations, despite what the Supreme Court has previously said, aren’t people. They don’t have tongues to confess or brains to embrace religious beliefs, even if they happen to have human spokesmen who insist the law bend to the corporate owners’ theological dogmatism. And I believe a majority of the Court will see that corporations do not speak in tongues and are not people in that important, if possibly misguided, sense.

But it occurred to me that if the Supreme Court does decide that corporations have religious rights under the Constitution or under the law, then corporations will have truly become full persons entitled to all the benefits people have under our Constitution. Thus, if they are full, constitutionally-protected persons, they cannot therefore be “owned” by any other person, since the Thirteenth Amendment outlaws slavery. Here is what the text of that amendment says:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

So, the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores and of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation and all the other owners of corporations suing the government over the Affordable Care Act’s pregnancy-related health care mandates, should, upon winning their religious freedom case, set their corporations free.

Then all the corporations in America can say together in the tongues of men or angels: “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we’re free at last!”

Because Being Poor And Unemployed Is Just One Big Vacation

With all the moaning and groaning over ObamaCare in the mainstream press—including those godawful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War—and with all the ridiculous coverage of that crazy, crack-smoking mayor in Canada, many people have forgotten about the unemployed in this country.

But Chad Stone, the Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, isn’t one of those people who have forgotten. Last week U.S. News and World Report published a piece he wrote, “The Unemployment Insurance Cliff.” It begins:

Unless the president and Congress act before the end of the year, more than a million Americans will have the plug pulled on their jobless benefits the week after Christmas, and many others who’ve recently become unemployed or will become unemployed next year will see them sharply curtailed.  That would increase hardship for those workers and their families, and it would be bad for the economy.

What he is talking about is the expiration of a program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which was created when George W. Bush was still president in June of 2008. The program, Stone says, “increased the number of weeks of federal emergency benefits as the Great Recession worsened in late 2008 and 2009.” And although it has been extended “several times” in order “to mount  a strong enough recovery to restore the labor market to normal health,” Republicans “want to kill the program.”

That’s a big surprise, isn’t it? Republicans want to kick folks off unemployment benefits? Who could have guessed that?

In any case, Stone posted this amazing graph:

As you can see, the Great Recession really was the Great Recession. And Stone reminds us that not only was that recession “so much worse” than previous recessions, but if it weren’t for unemployment insurance, the damn thing “would have been deeper and the recovery even slower.” Because, you see, unemployment insurance puts money in the pockets of folks who otherwise wouldn’t have it. And where does that money end up? Yes, it ends up going into the economy, which helps everyone, even rich everyones who own superstores like Walmart.

But Republicans have a theory about what that money really does, especially when it gets extended through programs like EUC. You know what their theory is called? The Great Vacation theory. Yes. That’s what economist Chad Stone calls it:

The “Great Vacation” narrative holds that unemployment insurance (UI) benefits — in particular, the added weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed that Congress has funded in the past few years — have dissuaded millions of unemployed workers from taking a job.  If, then, jobless workers would get off their duff (or if we would give them a good swift kick there), unemployment would plummet.

The Great Vacation Theory of unemployment insurance has a cousin. It’s called the Hammock Theory, as in “the social safety net has become a hammock.” That has always been one of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite little digs at poor people. And perhaps you remember when Republican Paul Ryan, introducing his infamous budget-slashing plan to America in 2011, compared his plan to the so-called successful welfare reforms under Bill Clinton:

This budget extends those successes . . . to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.

Yep, all those hungry kids that get food and health benefits from the government are living a life of leisure and, by God, Republicans are eager to help make them productive citizens by cutting the help going to their families.

Yep, all those elderly and disabled folks who get government help are endangering the country with their sloth.

Yep, those working poor who get such benefits as Ryan sought to cut don’t know they are lounging around in a hammock of “complacency and dependency” and it is up to Jesus-loving GOP lawmakers to push them out of their comfortable hammock and into…what?

Did you know, according to the Department of Agriculture, that in 2011:

Seventy-six percent of SNAP [the old "food stamp" program] households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person, and these households received 83 percent of all benefits.

Did you know that? And did you know this:

Nearly half (49 percent) of all SNAP households with children had earned income; 40 percent of single-adult households with children and 64 percent of married-head households with children had earned income. Four percent of all households with children had both TANF [the old AFDC program that provides a little cash to poor families with kids] and earned income.

That’s a helluva a hammock those folks are swinging in. I don’t know how they have time for all that “complacency and dependency” when they’re out there earning income, do you?

snap announcementIn any case, the Democrats stimulus plan passed in 2009 (remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?) temporarily increased SNAP benefits to those hammock-loving kids and old folks and the disabled. But that temporary increase ended on November 1 and SNAP households have seen their meager benefits cut. And there ain’t no way on God’s GOP-governed earth that SNAP benefits will go up again. As CBPP put it:

Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. 

That’ll teach those slackers!

And now, according to Chad Stone, we have Republicans wanting to kill emergency unemployment insurance because they believe it “has created a ‘Great Vacation’ in which workers prefer unemployment benefits to a job.”

Meanwhile, most of what you hear on TV news these days is either stories about a crack-crazed Canadian mayor, or how Democrats didn’t adequately foresee every possible problem with making our healthcare system a little more humane for millions upon millions of Americans.

And that, my friends, is how Republicans can do their dirty work and get away with it.

House Republicans, And Some Fraidy Cat Democrats, Vote To Allow Insurance Companies To Keep Selling Crappy Insurance Forever And Ever. Yippee!

From the AP:

The Republican-controlled House has passed legislation letting insurance companies sell individual coverage to all comers, even if it falls short of standards set in “Obamacare.”

Next up for this group of lawmakers: Allowing companies to sell contaminated food to Americans who—because they are Americans, dammit!—might want it.

Sadly, 39 Democrats joined with 222 Republicans to make this reactionary mania somewhat bipartisan. Wow. Fortunately, the bill will never become law, as President Obama has said he will veto it.

“We’ve got to move forward on this,” Says The President

Yesterday Speaker John Boehner said the health care law needed to be fixed. Today he said it can’t be fixed. Tomorrow, who knows what he will say. But what we do know is that beneath all the hysterical media coverage of the number of people who have so far signed up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act—106,000 brave or desperate souls—lies one simple fact: Republicans have exactly no interest in making the law work, in helping people who can’t get or can’t afford insurance, some 41 million Americans.

In a better world, that is, in a world where there really is a liberal mainstream press, the reporting on what is happening relative to ObamaCare would be much different. It would start by noting that the disappointing numbers of insurance buyers is not just the result of the troubled federal website, or the normal wait-till-the-last-minute propensity we all have, but the reporting would also point out that the other side has been trying to destroy the law or, failing that, scare people into avoiding it.

Reporters would tell the people that despite the Republican conspiracy to sabotage the law, despite the concerted efforts by the right-wing to encourage people not to sign up, a rather large number of folks—at least at this stage of the process—have nevertheless found their way into the marketplaces and signed up for coverage. Reporters, in my ideal world, might lead their coverage with the fact that almost 400,000 people, some who likely never had insurance in their lives, have signed up for Medicaid.

As I said, that kind of news coverage would be in a better world, not the one we live in.

In any case, President Obama came forward in a news conference today and announced some tweaks to the law. He was responding to media pressure and to pressure from fraidy-cat Democrats,President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Bowing to pressure, President Barack Obama intends to permit continued sale of individual insurance plans that have been canceled because they failed to meet coverage standards under the health care law, officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) as well as to the genuine concerns some Americans have about the cancellation of their policies.

The President also took all of the blame for the problems associated with the law (“we fumbled the ball” and “I feel deeply responsible”), especially his promise that people could keep their insurance, even if a lot of it is crappy insurance. He absolved congressional Democrats, some who are shaking in their political boots, of any responsibility for that so-called broken promise. Now those Democrats can go home and tell the folks it was all Obama’s fault. Happy now, Dems?

The President announced today that he is trying to make it possible, as I said, for people to keep their mostly crappy insurance policies because the grandfather provision in the law was insufficiently protective of such sub-standard plans:

What we wanted to be able to do is to say to these folks, “You know what, the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel your plan.”

We all know, and the President acknowledged it, that any of the normal disruptions or problems (like rising premiums) in the health insurance market are going to be blamed on the ACA. And if insurance companies don’t take advantage of the fix the President announced today (and how that fix will be implemented is not clear), he will still get slammed on Fox “News” and, sadly, in much of the mainstream press. That’s just the way it is these days. As I write, Andrea Mitchell is reporting that the insurance industry is complaining that what the President proposed won’t work and that the blame is squarely on him. Blah, blah, blah.

Democrats, as is their tendency, usually jump ship when their boat has a leak in it. Some of them in the House were threatening to vote on a Republican-sponsored “fix” to the law that would essentially, as it was really designed to do, undermine it. But President Obama is not jumping ship. “I’m up to the challenge,” he said. He noted, rather importantly:

We’ve got to move forward on this. It took a hundred years for us to even get to the point that we could even start talking about and implementing a law to make sure everybody got health insurance. My pledge to the American people is that we’re going to solve the problems that are there, we’re going to get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.

Will the President’s press conference shut down all the criticism? Of course not. Fox “News” will go on doing segment after segment about disgruntled people who had their policies cancelled while it ignores the millions upon millions who stand to be helped by the law, particularly if Republicans will stop sabotaging it; Fox will go on showing graphics of a non-working website, long after it has been repaired. And the mainstream press will treat all of this like it is a political game, rather than a long-awaited attempt to do something good for Americans, even if doing this particular good is enormously complicated and necessarily problematic.

Finally, I want to make a comment about what Alex Wagner, a reliable progressive on MSNBC, said after the President spoke. She said he “seemed a wounded man today.” No, he didn’t. He seemed like a disappointed but determined man who is trying to do all he can do to guide the ACA through a rather difficult storm, a storm that, unfortunately, is a rather perfect one for Republicans, for those who never before gave a damn about those millions of people who will, hopefully and when all is said and done, get health insurance through ObamaCare.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

To Err Is Human

How about this for a revered retailer’s rollout of its holiday bargains:

Walmart Website Error Allowed Customers to Buy $600 Electronics for $8.85

What? I thought only the government could screw up websites and rollouts and marketplaces. That’s what every living and breathing right-wing politician and pundit has been telling us since October 1, right? Private sector good, government bad.

Anyway, I have had my own troubles with the private sector, when it comes to websites. My cell phone company, U.S. Cellular, has had its brand spanking new online payment system malfunctioning for more than two months now. Yes, more than two months. Last month they took out two payments from my checking account and then assured me things were being fixed and that I simply wouldn’t have to pay anything this month. Except they charged me again! Dammit!

Of course I went on the website and encountered a series of problems:

us celluar site problems

Obviously U.S. Cellular will have all this messed fixed eventually, just as Walmart fixed the mess it created. And just as obvious is the fact that those working on the ObamaCare website, HealthCare.gov, will get it up and running, too. The point here is that, yes, they—meaning the human beings working on and managing the rollout of the health insurance exchanges—should have been better prepared for the big day on October 1. It was a major screw-up that keeps on giving to the Obama haters among us. But when it comes to opening up the ACA’s marketplaces, we are talking about issues and systems much more complicated than selling cell phone service or electronic equipment. And, again, we are talking about error-prone human beings.

But ultimately we are talking about the well-being of a lot of Americans. I won’t abandon U.S. Cellular because they have one or two knuckleheads managing their website and online payment system, just as people won’t stop shopping at Walmart because they couldn’t get a computer monitor for $8.85, even though it said they could on the company’s website. Hopefully people, especially young people, won’t give up on ObamaCare just because it is taking longer than expected to get things right.

And if they do sign up, it will be in spite of what right-wingers, like the IQ snatchers on Fox “News,” have been doing shamelessly.

Fox News Obama Scare

Why Democrats Should Worry About Last Night’s Election Results

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood, but if you are a liberal, there aren’t too many reasons to be happy over the election results last night—unless you live in New York City, which overwhelmingly elected its first liberal in 20 years, a guy who isn’t ashamed of his liberalism. Or unless you were a liberal making minimum wage in New Jersey and will soon get a buck-an-hour raise.

Sure, Ken Cuccinelli, a wacky, war-on-women-and-gays right-winger, lost the race for Virginia governor. But he didn’t exactly lose to FDR. He lost to a very flawed Democrat, Terry McAuliffe. And he didn’t exactly lose in a landslide. He lost 47.8% to 45.3%.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a man who, as Mother Jones reported, once requested that a state-issued lapel pin, which featured the half bare-breasted image of the Roman goddess Virtus, be modified so that her left breast was shielded from Christian eyeballs.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a man who thinks that human embryos have rights that trump the rights of the women in which they might reside.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a guy who thought launching a website to help keep Virginians safe from sodomy was a great idea.

By such a margin “our” guy beat a tax-cutter, a gun rights extremist, a man who wanted to take away the citizenship rights of children who are born in the United States to parents without proper documentation.

Yep, that was quite a victory for our guy. And as I write this, it appears that the Attorney General of Virginia will be, uh, a Republican. Well, at least it was very, very close.[UPDATE: Turns out Democrat Mark Herring is now slightly ahead, 49.91% to 49.88%. The point, however, remains.]

The exit polls from Virginia weren’t all that encouraging either, at least to me. McAuliffe won the votes of women by only eight points. Only eight points. There is a war going on against reproductive rights in this country. There is a desire to have the government probe the vaginas of women seeking to exercise those rights and Cuccinelli’s Virginia is leading the way. And you’re telling me that women only gave the Democrat opposing Cuccinelli an eight point margin? Something’s wrong with that picture. Or this picture that I lifted from MSNBC:

virginia exit polls

Oh, I suppose we should be real happy that a freaky preacher in Virginia, E. W. Jackson, lost the race for lieutenant governor. Remember? Jackson was the one who said, “It was God’s plan to beget the Tea Party,” and:

How in the world can we expect our military to be blessed by the hand of almighty God if we allow our military to become the equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah? God is not pleased.

Tim Murphy, of Mother Jones, said Jackson,

believes that yoga is an instrument of Satan, that gays are “ikky,” and that society is under attack from witches and hip-hop, which he called an “egg of destruction.”

Yep, we ought to be happy that guy lost. Yet that guy, that zealot, may have lost but he got almost a million votes out of 2.1 million cast, amounting to almost 45% of the vote. I dunno, but the fact that 45% of voters in a so-called bellwether state would vote for such a man is a little, well, depressing.

Then there is Chris Christie. He trounced the Democrat in the New Jersey governor’s race. And that Democrat, State Senator Barbara Buono, wasn’t happy about what she characterized christe and unionsas the “betrayal from our own political party.” She was speaking about the bigwigs in the Democratic Party essentially abandoning her by not sending much money her way and, well, I’ll let her tell it:

The Democrat political bosses—some elected, some not—made a deal with this governor, despite him representing everything they’re supposed to be against. They didn’t to it to help the state. They did it out of a desire to help themselves politically and financially.

Yikes.

You know, it’s too bad that a lot of Democrats in New Jersey got in bed with Chris Christie—32% of them crossed over and backed him—and, as Rachel Maddow said, launched his presidential campaign, christie and democratsbut it’s worse that a lot of moneyed Democrats refused to get in bed with a real liberal Democrat, one who stood up to the political bully that Christie essentially is.

And perhaps worse of all, President Obama, who received 58% of the vote in New Jersey in 2012, never campaigned for her. He never bothered to to go there and champion her underdog cause. But then when it comes to politics, he tends to shy away from underdogs. Let’s hope that more folks don’t begin to shy away from his underdog, ObamaCare.

In any case, in a strange way it was Barack Obama who helped give Chris Christie a tremendous state and national boost after Hurricane Sandy, a boost that brought many New Jersey Democrats into the Christie fold and made many independents happy to vote for him. It turns out that in New Jersey putting your arm around a Democratic President is good politics, even if that arm is attached to a very conservative Republican.

christie votersAnd Christie is a very conservative Republican. Very conservative. And when he gets the Republican nomination for president in 2016, as I have predicted he will, perhaps then Democrats will regret slipping under the covers with him this year. Perhaps they will regret not at least taking money-backed shots at him in the governor’s race this year.

Politico, that bastion of Beltway journalism, is now calling Christie “a center-right leader who has fought and won on Democratic turf.” Center-right? Yikes again. For his part, in his acceptance speech on Tuesday night Christie revealed that he is clearly going to run for president. And who can blame him? In some ways he is the Ronald Reagan of contemporary Republican politics, a man who is very far right, a man who has the reputation of “working” with Democrats as governor, and a man who can hide his reactionary ideology by running against “Washington,” a Washington that now seems to be hopelessly adrift in a sea of dysfunction.

But perhaps the biggest advantage Christie has, and the reason why Democrats may come to regret their unseemly political liaison with him, is that Christie is a media favorite. Reporters love the guy. They puff him up constantly. They love his confrontational style. They love it when he yells at a teacher who dares to challenge him. They love the idea of him running for president, potentially taking on all those extremist teapartiers via a Clintonesque triangulation strategy, taking on all those folks who think Obama is a Kenyan socialist, who think Obama is a monster, a devil, a man who wants to destroy America.

Chris Christie is not a Tea Party extremist. He gets snubbed by CPAC. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t like him. Christie has snuggled up to President Obama in ways that drive the zealots mad. But behind his unconventional persona, behind the man who struggles with his weight and yells at his detractors, there is a man who doesn’t like unions, who doesn’t like reproductive and gay rights, a man who does like deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, who does like cutting government services and social programs. As I said recently about the triangulating governor,

Christie and a Christie-friendly Congress could change the country in ways Ted Cruz only dreams of.

And that is why, I suppose, I am not all that excited about what happened on Tuesday.

[Christie Photo Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri]

Despite Media Hysteria, The Salesmanship Must Continue

When it comes to those Americans who are now having their present health coverage canceled by insurance companies for next year, there is something akin to mass hysteria going on in mainstream journalism, some of it now being exposed for what it is (see here and here, for instance).

nbc news bannerIt’s too bad that such mass hysteria isn’t happening over the fact that, despite passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans still won’t be able to get insurance, many of them because Republicans are sabotaging the law, refusing to implement it by not expanding Medicaid in selected states (including here in Missouri) and encouraging people to break the law by not purchasing insurance on the exchanges. Would to God that national and local journalists were busy reporting on that reality night and day.

But they’re not. Nearly everywhere you look, stories are popping up about how terribly unfair it is that many Americans who have to purchase insurance on the individual market—about 5% of the population—are being told by their insurance companies that policies that weren’t grandfathered into the Affordable Care Act or that don’t meet the new minimum standards in the law are being canceled. (Never mind that the individual insurance market was highly volatile before ObamaCare.)

One can turn anywhere now and see clips of Barack Obama uttering a variation of, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” Oh, the outrage! Look how many times he said it! Depending on who you listen to, the President “lied” or he “deceived” us or he “misled” us all when he made those statements. And those coming forth to defend the President are being shouted down, much like the way right-wing MSNBC morning man Joe Scarborough tried to shout down former Obama health policy adviser Ezekiel Emanuel this morning:

EMANUEL: The law did not kick anyone off their plan. The law did not say you have to cancel those plans. The law said if on March 23, 2010, as long as you keep that plan in place and don’t change it radically you can stay on it forever. You can drive your Pinto without airbags or seat belts forever. 

On the other hand, if the insurance company changes the plan, if you go off that plan to another plan, you have to get a new plan. Who’s making that change? The insurance company. Let me give you a little secret—

CHUCK TODD: Wait a minute, though…

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, come on! That’s garbage! That’s garbage! This is so beneath you, Zeke. This is so beneath you.

EMANUEL: No, it’s not beneath me…

SCARBOROUGH: Yes it is. You’re better than this…

EMANUEL: No, one more thing, which is, the insurance companies want out of that market. That’s why they’re changing the plans and that’s why they’re sending the cancellation notices. They want out of it.

Now, Ezekiel Emanuel, it must be said, isn’t some ordinary talking head. He is a Harvard-trained physician who also holds a Ph. D in political philosophy from the same school. He is an oncologist and a bioethicist. Presumably he knows a little something about medicine and insurance and politics and ethics. And he has refused to allow the opponents of health reform to shout him down (see, for instance, his appearance on Fox News Sunday). He has often been a lone voice out there raging against the anti-ObamaCare hysteria.

emanuel shouted downEmanuel’s point about what is happening shouldn’t be missed: the reason insurance companies are beginning to stop marketing their sub-par plans to consumers is because those plans soon won’t be profitable: the companies can no longer sell them to new customers and without new customers feeding them dollars, those policies will soon become a burden too heavy for the profit-minded companies to bear. Thus, they are getting ahead of the game by cancelling now, grandfathered in or not.

Now, we can argue about whether President Obama or advisers in his administration knew in advance that insurance companies would behave like profit-minded corporations (they should have known; it’s the nature of the beast). We can argue about whether the President should have been more nuanced in his statements (he should have been and people have a right to call him on it). We can even argue about whether it is reasonable for some people to complain about having to pay more for coverage they don’t need (it is reasonable, but they also benefit from changes in the system). But what about the heart of the issue, as it relates to these individual health plans in particular and health reform in general?

Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people can no longer purchase inadequate insurance that was making a lot of profits for the insurance industry but exposing customers to medical bankruptcy? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that people with health insurance no longer have to worry about going completely bankrupt because of an illness that runs up bills past policy limits? As The New York Times reported,

…nearly two-thirds of Americans who declared bankruptcy cited illness or medical bills as a significant cause (PDF) of their bankruptcies. And of the medically bankrupt, three-quarters of that group had insurance, at least when they first got sick.

Surely those of us who support health care reform can make the case that for all its faults—and there are many—ObamaCare at least has the benefit of giving folks the peace of mind to know that they are not necessarily condemned to bankruptcy if they get horribly sick, right? That insurance companies can no longer sell crappy plans that leave people financially vulnerable? That people can get relatively affordable insurance and good health care even though they have a preexisting medical condition?

Because if we can’t sell that stuff, if we can’t convince people that those things are worthy goals, then we are pretty poor salesmen. And, more important, we will never get anything better than ObamaCare.

______________________________________

From HealthCare.gov, here are the ten essential benefits that all health insurance policies must provide:

essential health benefits graph

Some Good News On HealthCare.gov

A commenter alerted me to the fact that you can now go on HealthCare.gov and actually check out the plans and rates without having to first go through the application process. It worked for me and that feature represents progress. Things are looking up. Here is a screenshot:

healthcare website

Additionally, HuffPo’s health care reporter, Jeffrey Young, has written one of the most informative pieces you will read regarding the issue of canceled polices. With all the propaganda being pumped out by the conservative media complex, aided and abetted by mainstream journalists, Young’s piece is a breath of fresh air.

Some stuff from the piece:

♦ About 11 million people buy health insurance directly, as opposed to getting it at work or via Medicaid or Medicare (not counting the millions who have zero insurance). Of those 11 million, anywhere from “a few hundred thousand to millions” will not be able to buy their current plans next year.

♦ “Not all the insurance plans being canceled are lousy,” but “conservative health care reform proposals would also lead to lots and lots of people losing the plans they have now.

♦ “Plans getting dropped is nothing new. Neither are big rate hikes.”

♦ “According to a 2004 study, only 17 percent of consumers in this market kept the same plan for two years or more (h/t the Washington Post). This is going to happen next year, and the year after that, ad infinitum.”

♦ Why some premiums may go up: “A big part of what’s going on here is that people on the individual market before Obamacare were benefiting from the fact that health insurers could exclude sick people (or charge them sky-high rates) and even dump them when they became ill or injured. This kept companies’ medical expenses low, which meant their healthy customers could pay less. That’s a sweetheart deal — until the inevitable day when you, the healthy person, become a sick person.”

♦ “Another thing your health insurance company probably isn’t telling you is that you may be able to get help paying for your insurance through Obamacare’s tax credits…”

ObamaCare is not the best possible solution to our health care problems, but it is at least an attempt to do something constructive. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, single-payer here we come.

Sabotage, Limbaugh-Republican Style

Many times I have used the word “sabotage” to describe what Republicans have done to the country, both in terms of politics and in terms of policies that could, with even a little cooperation, improve the lives of so many Americans.

Now there is an article that details that “calculated sabotage by Republicans,” written by reporter Todd Purdum of Politico. Titled, “The Obamacare sabotage campaign,” the article tells us things we already knew:

From the moment the bill was introduced, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress announced their intention to kill it…

The opposition was strategic from the start: Derail President Barack Obama’s biggest ambition, and derail Obama himself. Party leaders enforced discipline, withholding any support for the new law — which passed with only Democratic votes, thus undermining its acceptance.

quote boxBut besides reminding us of the intentions of Republicans, the Politico article does an excellent job of presenting the comprehensiveness of the effort to destroy the President and his health reform law. Not only did congressional Republicans attempt to sabotage ObamaCaare both before its passage and after, but “Republican troops pressed this cause all the way to the Supreme Court,” and “Republican governors declined to create their own state insurance exchanges” and “refused to do anything at all to educate the public about the law.”

Republicans, by their resistance, increased the burden on the federal government, forcing it to create many more exchanges than it had expected and forcing it “to do all that extra work” without the “dedicated funds” necessary. On top of all that:

The drama culminated on the eve of the open enrollment date of Oct. 1. Congressional Republicans shut down the government, disrupting last-minute planning and limiting the administration’s political ability to prepare the public for the likelihood of potential problems, because it was in a last-ditch fight to defend the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment.

All of this was no accident. It was “the explicit aim of the law’s opponents.” And they’re not finished. Conservatives are still attacking the law in the courts, Darrell Issa and other lawmakers are still making mischief in the House, and right-wing groupthink tanks are hard at work, including the Cato Institute, which “has drawn up an action plan on how to keep fighting the law in the states.” Some Republican representatives, like Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, have refused to give his constituents assistance when it comes to signing up for ObamaCare.

Perhaps most appalling of all is the subversive advice coming from the radiohead of the Republican Party:

…just last week, Rush Limbaugh advised his listeners that they could avoid penalties for failing to buy mandated insurance by arranging to avoid federal income tax refunds, since the IRS can only levy fines by withholding refunds, not by liens or criminal sanctions.

Yes, that paragon of conservative virtue, the man who represents the law-and-order party, the man who regularly charges the President with lawbreaking, is actually not only encouraging folks to break the law, he’s telling them how to do it and get away it.

PhotoOf course, I suppose it’s only natural for such a man. A man who once said that “if people are violating the law by doing drugs…ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,” and then years after saying that, after giving his aggressive approval of the mostly misguided war on drugs, we found out his housekeeper and her husband were supplying him with powerful narcotics and that he had been obtaining painkillers from several doctors, none of whom knew how extensive was his abuse.

So, I suppose Limbaugh knows a lot about lawbreaking, and since he did no jail time for his drug-related actions, I suppose he knows how to get away with it, too.

Congressman Ozark Billy Long: Cheap Shot Artist? Nope. He’s No Artist

cheap shot artist:
An individual who raises the act of taking a dishonorable, lowbrow, disrespectable action to an artform. This is accomplished either through frequent and conspicuous use of cheap shots or a particularly noteworthy low blow.

—from the Urban Dictionary

Geeze.

I had heard that my congressman, the former auctioneer Ozark Billy Long, participated in the farce that was Wednesday’s hearing conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on “implementation failures” of the Affordable Care Act. But even I, a long-time critic of the congressman, never dreamed he would make such a cheap shot-shooting splash on the national stage.

Here is the painful transcript of Ozark Billy’s moment in the anti-ObamaCare sun. And keep in mind that he had plenty of time—almost three and a half hours during the hearing itself—to formulate his questions:

OZARK BILLY LONG: …thank you, Secretary, for being here today and giving your testimony. Earlier in today [sic] you said that “I’m responsible for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.” I’ve heard you referred to, maybe yourself, as the point person for the rollout, the architect of implementing Affordable Care Act, so you are kind of the President’s point person, are you not, for this rollout?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Yes, sir.

OZARK BILLY LONG: I, uh, earlier, you were asked—and there’s a lot of things striking about the rollout of this and about the Affordable Care Act altogether—but the thing that’s most striking to me is that when we have the point person for the rollout here, and you’re not going into the exchange. Now, I’ve heard you say that—and you’ve got some advice from the folks behind you—but I’m asking you today could you tell the American public, if your advisers behind you, if they happen to give you some wrong information, if it is possible for you to go into the exchange like all these millions of Americans that are goin’ into the exchanges, will you commit to forgo your government insurance plan that you’re on now and join us in the pool? Come on in, the water’s fine, all the congressmen, all of our staff, have to go into the exchanges. We have to go into the D.C. exchanges.

And I will say that I tried to get on the website, I was successful during the hearing earlier, and I got to the D.C. exchange, which is where I have to buy from, and I got part way through and then when I got to the point where I had to enter Social Security number, billy long cheap shot artistI could not bring myself to do that from what I’ve heard from people like John McAfee and folks about the security, will you tell, if your advisers are wrong, and it is possible, for you, and I’m not saying it is, but if it is, if it is possible for you, to forgo your government program you have now, will you tell the American public that, yes, I will go into the exchanges next year like everyone else?

SEBELIUS: Sir, the way the law is written—

LONG: It’s a yes or no—let’s say that you’re wrong on that. Yes or no. If you’re wrong, will you yes or no…

SEBELIUS: I don’t want to give misinformation to the American public…

LONG: You what?

SEBELIUS: I don’t want to give misinformation…

LONG: I want you to go on and research it…if, if, if you’re wrong…will you go into the exchanges? If you can, will you? That’s a yes or no; if you can, will you?

SEBELIUS: I will take a look at it. I don’t have any idea…

LONG: That’s not an answer. That’s not a yes or no.

COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN FRED UPTON (R-Michigan): The gentleman’s time has expired…

LONG: You’re the architect of the whole program and you won’t go into it with the rest of the American public…

SEBELIUS: I did not say that, sir. I think it’s illegal for me—

LONG: —If it’s not illegal, if it’s legal will you go in? …Come on in, the water’s fine…

UPTON (R-Michigan): The gentleman’s time has expired…

CONGRESSMAN HENRY WAXMAN (D-California): Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I have a unanimous consent request…

SEBELIUS: (turning to someone behind her and muttering) …don’t do this to me…

WAXMAN: …Madame Secretary, I’d like you to answer for the record: if you were able to do what the gentleman just suggested…and went into the [exchange] to buy an individual policy, would you be able to find one that would protect you from cheap shots…?

Yikes. Cheap shots, indeed.

First of all, besides the cheap shots and incoherent mess that was Long’s questioning, when he asks Sebelius, “will you go into the exchanges like everyone else?” we know that “everyone else” will not be going into the exchanges. It will typically be only those Americans (about 15 million) who don’t get coverage through their employers or through Medicare or Medicaid or who are self-employed or who are owners of small businesses trying to provide insurance for their workers (or members of Congress and their staff who were, unfortunately, put into the exchanges by a Republican provision that Democrats adopted).

Second, Sebelius already has health insurance and doesn’t need to go into the exchanges. Her employer is the federal government and, by law, her employer must provide her with affordable insurance, which it does. And since apparently she is enrolled in Medicare Part A, she couldn’t go into the exchanges without withdrawing from that program, which would be dumb since it is, uh, free. Thus, in order for her to sufficiently prove to Billy Long that she loves ObamaCare, she would have to give up her government-provided health benefits, quit Medicare, and start paying out of pocket for her health insurance. Dang, I wonder why she doesn’t do that?

Third, when Long says that Sebelius “is the architect of the whole program,” he is either lying or he doesn’t realize that the architects of this program were largely Republicans, who, before Obama embraced their enhance-the-private-insurance-industry scheme, were all in favor of enhancing the private insurance industry. And if Sebelius were the architect of the program, she would understand it much, much better than she does and would be able to explain it much, much better than she has so far.

Fourth, when Ozark Billy referenced John McAfee, I thought he was kidding. John McAfee, besides being the founder of the anti-virus software company that used to haunt our computers, is actually a “person of interest” in a murder case in Belize. He is one weird cat. House Republicans solicited his “expertise” on October 14, those Republicans being in desperate need of a clown to complete their anti-ObamaCare circus act.

Instead, they settled for Ozark Billy Long, whose cheap shot artistry was long on cheap and short on art.

Geeze.

Here is the entire hearing in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee,  and you will find the complete display of Long’s lack of artistry near the end, at 3:23:22 or so:

Here is a clip:

What The President Should Know And When He Should Know It

Barack Obama, I found out today, is a liar. Oh, yeah, that’s right. Here, see for yourself:

President Obama Lied, Millions Will Lose Insurance Under Obamacare He Promised They Could Keep, Says Report

Lest ye think the Republican talking point in that headline is confined only to right-wing websites like the one above, well, you should know that the basis of that headline is a report by NBC News. Yes, that NBC News. The one that is supposed to be in bed with Obama and the Democratic Party.

Here’s how that story began:

President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But millions of Americans are getting or are about to get cancellation letters for their health insurance under Obamacare, say experts, and the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.

I won’t here go into why that and similar stories are essentially ridiculous—most of the relatively small number of people affected will lose their “junk” insurance plans in favor of better ones—but I do want to go into another Republican talking point that is making the rounds, even the rounds outside of conservative media: Obama is either “detached” from his administration because he doesn’t know what is going on, or he actually knows what is going on but won’t admit it.

Thus, if you believe the Republican Party and its conservative pundit defenders (not to mention non-conservative pundits who should know better, like Dana Milbank), President Obama should, among other things:

♦ Know everything going on at HHS, and especially know how to write the code that makes the ObamaCare website work;

♦ Know everything that is going on at the IRS, and especially know when conservative groups think, mistakenly, that they are getting undue scrutiny;

♦ Know everything that is going on at the NSA, and especially know every phone call the agency is “listening” to or every email it is “reading”;

♦ Know everything going on at ATF, and especially know when the agency is about to double-down on a Bush-era “gunwalking” tactic designed to catch Mexican drug cartel kingpins;

♦ Know everything going on at the State Department, and especially know the status of diplomatic security in Benghazi;

♦ Know everything going on at the Justice Department, and especially know when the Attorney General is about to issue a subpoena against a reporter, especially a reporter from Fox “News”;

♦ Know everything going on in every agency of the government, at all times, to the minutest detail;

♦ And if he doesn’t know everything that is going on, at all times, to the minutest detail, that itself is a scandal, a big, big, scandal.

♦ On top of all those things he should know, he should also know that he is required to wine and dine Republicans regularly, so they can persuade him to “reform” Social Security and Medicare beyond recognition, all in exchange for not shutting down the government again or placing a large stick of dynamite under the economy and lighting it this time.

Yes, the President is expected to know all these things.

Echo, Echo, Echo, Echo, Echo, Echo

Here is a headline from The Washington Post:

Poll: Major damage to GOP after shutdown, and broad dissatisfaction with government

The elements in this headline, the damage and the dissatisfaction, point to two things, two important things, that every American should understand about the conservative movement, as it is now constituted, in our country:

1) Conservatives have designed their own parallel universe, one in which facts like “Major damage to GOP after shutdown” can’t exist.

I think it is fair to say that Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity represent very well the core constituency of the conservative movement, don’t you? Well, here is what Sean Hannity said to Ann Coulter on Monday night:

All those people that were doomin’ and gloomin’ Repubicans for the shutdown were wrong.

And the classless Coulter said:

The shutdown was so magnificent, run beautifully. I’m so proud of these Republicans, and that is because they have branded the Republican party as the anti-Obamacare party.

So, it’s that easy. There was no damage done to the Republican Party. Poll? Poll smoll.

2) Creating “broad dissatisfaction with government” is the entire mission of the conservative movement.

In their parallel universe, conservatives rejoice over the second finding in that poll. They want people to be dissatisfied with government because they believe government is, as Ronald Reagan famously said, “the problem.”

One would have thought that anti-government, laissez-faire conservatism could never have come back after the 1929 stock market crash and the subsequent Great Depression. It should have been dead forever. But it wasn’t. It came back in 1964 after its adherents forcefully took over the Republican Party, a feat that resulted in the shellacking of their uber-conservative candidate, Barry Goldwater, in the presidential election that year. The movement should have been permanently dead after that. But it wasn’t. As Thomas Frank wrote in The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation:

The conservatism that made such a huge comeback in the seventies and eighties was a mutation specifically adapted to survive a disaster of the 1929 variety. By which I do not mean that conservatism abandoned laissez-faire, its raison d’être, but that from now on it would present itself to the world as a form of opposition to the established order…It would wallow in preposterous theories about the secret treason of the ruling liberals and encourage the darkest imaginable interpretation of the government’s every deed…

Even as he presided over that hated federal government, Ronaldus Magnus, the tutelary deity of movement conservatism, said at a news conference in 1986:

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

So, you can see why that headline in The Washington Post doesn’t bother zealous conservatives one bit. They deny the first fact, that much damage has been done to the Republican Party, and fully embrace the second.

Posted below is the conversation between Hannity and Coulter I referenced, in case you make a healthful habit out of not watching these folks live. But I think you should watch this five-minute segment because it tells you so much about why these people do what they do. Not only will you hear them denying reality and inventing their own, you will hear Sean Hannity repeating the lie about Consumer Reports, claiming that it is “telling people to stay away” from the ObamaCare website. That lie became so widespread—it even found its way into “straight” reporting—that Consumer Reports published an article titled,

Obamacare opponents have misrepresented Consumer Reports’ position

HealthCare.gov problems do not negate benefits of new health law

So, with that in mind, hear the echoes in the chamber:

What Does ObamaCare And Microsoft Have In Common?

Here are two paragraphs from a recent CNN story on the ObamaCare website mess:

CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen tried to enroll in Obamacare as an experiment. It took more than a week for her to create a login and password. When that finally worked, error messages plagued her efforts when she tried to log in. Almost two weeks went by before she succeeded in logging in and proceeding with an application.

An insurance industry source told CNNMoney’s Tami Luhby that insurers are receiving faulty information about new customers, including duplicate forms, and missing and garbled information. They are in discussion with regulators and the administration to address these issues.

Journalist Mike Barnicle, whose role on MSNBC’s Morning Joe involves giving voice to the ignorance of the Common Man—a role he was born to play—said today about the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplaces:

The larger point is they keep using the word “unacceptable.” This is outrageous; it’s not unacceptable. They’ve had two years to pull this program together—in a country where you can go out to San Jose, California…and find five people to put together a website in about six seconds…

Oh, yeah? Ever heard of Windows RT? It is the version of Microsoft’s operating system that runs certain portable devices the company sells that feature processors marketed by a British company called ARM Holdings. According to PC Magazine, ARM chips are “the most widely used microprocessors worldwide.” In fact, the ARM processor “powers most smartphones and tablets today,” says Time Tech. So, you might say Microsoft’s Windows RT is a big bleeping deal, when it comes to software. And you might say that the geeks at Microsoft, and the executives who are running the company these days, would make sure they get the recent software update right the first time. Nope.

Here is a story released late last night from Computerworld and titled, “Microsoft yanks Windows 8.1 update for Surface RT after ‘Blue Screen of Death’ reports“:

Microsoft on Friday yanked the Windows RT 8.1 update from its Windows Store after some Surface RT owners reported their tablets had been crippled…

The snafu was an embarrassment for Microsoft, as its Surface RT tablet, which debuted a year ago, has been the only Windows RT-powered device that has sold in any meaningful quantity.

People responsible for this embarrassing snafu are like the “five people” Mike Barnicle says could “put together a website in about six seconds,” when he is criticizing the Obama administration for the poor rollout of the insurance marketplace website. The point here is that Microsoft, no doubt, has plenty of talented people at its disposal to produce software that works. But you know what? This stuff ain’t easy. If it were, people like Mike Barnicle would be doing it.

I want you to read the following paragraph from the Computerworld story:

While other reported problems with the Windows 8.1 update seemed to be rooted in device driver incompatibilities — understandable considering the breadth of the Windows ecosystem, which relies on a bewildering array of hardware components and peripherals, each with its own vendor-built driver — the fact that the Windows RT 8.1 update bricked the Surface RT, which has a single set of specific components and drivers, magnified the mistake.

Get that? “A bewildering array of hardware components and peripherals, each with its own vendor-builit driver.” Now, imagine the complexity involved in putting together, without any problems, a system that not only has to run or support the insurance exchanges for 36 states, but it also has to interface with various insurance company systems—as the government sends crucial data through the pipeline—as well as interface with other state and federal computer systems, like, for instance, the IRS. Add to all that the initial overloading of the system—almost 9 million unique visitors in the first three days—by people interested in seeing what coverage was available and its cost. So, it is understandable that the thing has problems.

That being said, the level of problems we are seeing, and how the development and debut of the site has been managed so far, is, despite Mike Barnicle’s rejection of the word, unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. There’s no better word for it. The site needs to be fixed and fixed very soon. Many of the state exchanges are working relatively well and people are enrolling. It’s necessary, if we are ever to figure out whether the ObamaCare experiment will work nationally, to get the national enrollment portal working and working well.

Because, as the severely critical, left-leaning Ezra Klein wrote recently:

…it’s important to see the Affordable Care Act as something more than a pawn in the political wars: It’s a real law that real people are desperately, nervously, urgently trying to access. And so far, the Obama administration has failed them.

____________________________________________________________________________

NOTE: I kid you not: As I was about to publish this piece, my browser crapped out and I got this message:

google crome crashDamn! Why can’t the geeks get it right?

How Democrats May Be Encouraging Hostage-Taking Politics

Over the weekend, a Tea Party posse took down barricades at the World War II Memorial and marched to the White’s House and dumped them, all the while appearing as if they were ready to jump the fence and lynch the Scary Negro who happens to live there. The reason these folks, some proudly waving Confederate flags, were so angry at the Scary Negro is a) because he is scary, b) because he is a Negro, or c) both.

Post image for Palin And Confederate Flag Rally Tea Party Vandals Piling ‘Barrycades’ At White HouseIf logic ruled the minds of these teapartiers, their anger would be directed at Republicans, who have shut down the government, including the World War II Memorial, and are threatening, really threatening, to sabotage the full faith and credit of the United States. But logic does not rule and lots of Americans are embarrassing themselves and the country.

The Tea Party posse, eventually clashing with Capitol police, were encouraged by both Sarah Palin and the comes-with-a-penis version of her, Ted Cruz. Palin told the crowd of veterans she was using as a political prop:

This is the people’s memorial. Our veterans should be above politics.

The penis version of Palin, who has been playing a dangerous game with the debt ceiling, told the folks:

Our veterans should be above politics. Enough games.

Besides Palin and Cruz, one of the speakers at the triggering event, misnamed the “Million Vet March on the Memorials” because a million vets didn’t show up, was a man named Larry Klayman, founder of reactionary groups Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch. He said to an approving crowd:

We are now ruled, quote, unquote, by a president who bows down to Allah. This president is not a president of “we the people.” He’s the president of his people. I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up.

Klayman, who obviously has lost his mind, is one of those right-wing ideologues who tends to hate the Washington establishment, no matter who the establishment happens to be at the time, but the Scary Negro particularly drives him and his fellow travelers nuts. And they will really go off when, finally, a deal is cut to reopen the government and preserve the nation’s credit integrity, all without doing any damage to ObamaCare.

As things stand right now, the establishment faction of the hostage takers is still demanding that Democrats bless their austerity mania, expressed now through the economy-damaging sequester. And these Repubicans are saying that since they have pretty much given up on destroying ObamaCare, that Democrats should let them have their way on the budget.

As I write, Democrats, who pledged not to negotiate with the hostage takers, are in fact negotiating with the hostage takers. That is a mistake, at least right now. Once Democrats made it clear several days ago they were willing to negotiate over opening the government and raising the debt ceiling, the pressure then shifted to them to make a deal. Thus, if no deal happens, Democrats will get a lot of the blame, which will tempt Democrats to make a bad deal.

And that pressure on Democrats to make a deal, bad or otherwise, is being manifested via a new narrative going around. This new narrative was first created by Republicans, but has been picked up by reporters and pundits. It goes like this: Democrats are trying to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Republican shutdown and are now “overreaching” by refusing to agree to a deal. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell today was pushing the idea that Democrats may be overplaying their hand and that “the president is not blameless, as far as the American people are concerned.”

In an earlier show on MSNBC, I saw Dee Dee Myers, who worked for Bill Clinton, and Robert Gibbs, who worked for President Obama, also talk about how Democrats might be in some political danger, if they don’t give Republicans an honorable way out of the mess they have made. Myers suggested that Democrats may “over-read” and “over-interpret” recent polls that show Republicans are losing the PR battle.

Well, the problem is that Democrats have already given too much. Republicans in the Senate are essentially demanding that the ridiculous sequester cuts, which exist because of the last hostage crisis created by Republicans, become the norm. To try to prevent the latest hostage crisis, Democrats previously agreed to the sequester budget numbers, which are hurting the economy and many people in it, for a short period of time. But that wasn’t good enough. Republicans wanted more. And they will keep on wanting more as long as Democrats are willing to give it to them because, alas, the hostage taking is working on some basic level: Republicans are slowly starving the government and quickly destroying people’s faith in it.

I understand the dynamics of what is going on here. I understand that in order to avoid the catastrophic effects of a failure to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats may have to allow Republicans to claim they got something for their trouble. But as I learn the contours of the deal now being brokered in the U.S. Senate—which still may not be acceptable to the Boehner Nuts in the House—I am at a loss to explain just how the deal is ultimately good for the country, which, last time I checked, is why we send politicians to work in Washington in the first place.

The problem is this: Republicans have shown no sign of compromising on budget issues, particularly when it comes to raising revenues sufficient to fund a government that won’t fit into Grover Norquist’s bathtub. Thus, we will be right back here again at some point in the future. Democrats will be forced once again to make a decision about negotiating with the hostage takers or letting Republicans shoot them, or, as in the present case, cut off a couple of fingers.

I can’t help believing that if Democrats had simply stuck to their original narrative—that they will be glad to talk with Republicans after they open the government and pay the nation’s bills—that the country, in the long term, would be better off. Why? Because in the end I can’t imagine the leaders of the Republican Party, no matter how feckless and irresponsible they are, allowing the country to default on its obligations and then suffering the perhaps permanent ignominy that would accompany such an action.

All of which would have meant that we would have been done, once and for all, with hostage-taking politics. As it is, if a deal is made that Boehner will put on the House floor, it looks like the political extortion will continue.

[photo credit: Whitney Waters]

Two Reasons Why Boehner Is The Problem

Before too many events intervene and before we get to the end of the shutdown-default mess—if there is an end to it—two flaws in John Boehner’s character, or at least defects in his ability to lead the House of Representatives, must be examined and remembered:

1. Boehner’s Word Isn’t His Bond

Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid revealed that Boehner had reneged on a private deal the two had previously made over the Continuing Resolution, the stopgap fund-the-government bill that didn’t get passed and led to the government shutdown. As The Hill reported:

Reid said Boehner never wanted to wage a protracted battle over ObamaCare as part of the negotiations to keep the government running.

“I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number. 

“We didn’t like the 988 number. We didn’t like it but we negotiated. That was our compromise,” Reid added. “The exact bill that he now refuses to let the House vote on. That was our negotiation.”

Moreover:

Reid said he didn’t have to twist Boehner’s arm to get a preliminary deal on a clean stopgap.

“He twisted mine a little bit to get that number,” Reid said.

“Now he refused to let his own party vote because he’s afraid to stand up to something he originally agreed to,” he added.

So, clearly Boehner’s word is no good and if a man’s word is no good how can anyone bargain with him? (The Speaker has had a pattern of such untrustworthy behavior. See here and here, for instance.)

2. Boehner’s Dishonesty Is Breathtaking

Before he shamefully began to demagogue the issue of the “exemption” from ObamaCare for Congress and its staff—which is not an exemption at all—Boehner personally and secretly asked Democrats for help in protecting the employer contribution for health insurance premiums (misleadingly called “subsidies”) for congressional lawmakers and staff (the staff members definitely in need of the employer contribution, even if some lawmakers, those with lots of money, aren’t).

First a little background on this ridiculous issue from USA Today:

During the 2010 debate over the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment requiring members of Congress and their staffs to purchase health insurance though state exchanges. Democrats, viewing the amendment as a political stunt, co-opted the idea as their own and inserted it into the bill.

But the provision was silent about who would pay for that insurance, or how those payments would be treated. The exchanges were intended for uninsured people who couldn’t get health insurance through their employer or qualify for Medicaid. Those who had access to health benefits meeting minimum coverage levels could still purchase insurance on the exchanges — but without a subsidy and using after-tax income.

Holding members of Congress and their staffs to that standard would have the effect of stripping them of the employer-paid health coverage they currently get, which is the same as any other federal employee. So the Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule in August making clear that the government would continue to pay the employer contribution for congressional health benefits at the same rate as if members were still on the federal plan.

Grassley now says that was his intent all along. “My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen,” he told Roll Call Thursday. But because of what Grassley called a “drafting error,” the amendment left out language that would have explicitly given lawmakers the same before-tax employer contribution as any other federal employee gets.

Some of Grassley’s Republican colleagues have a different interpretation. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced an unsuccessful amendment to the spending bill that would have required members of Congress to pay the full cost of their health care.

What ultimately caused this demagogue-friendly problem is that Democrats foolishly allowed Grassley’s ill-conceived and poorly-written amendment to become part of the law and when it became clear how confused and confusing the amendment was, members of both parties sought to get relief from its potential impact. But the demagogues, like David Vitter and others, saw a political advantage in exploiting the confusion. Enter John Boehner. Politico reported:

With the federal government nearing shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner stood on the House floor Monday and called on his colleagues to vote for a bill banning a “so-called exemption” that lawmakers and staffers receive for their health insurance.

“Why don’t we make sure that every American is treated just like we are?” Boehner asked, seeking to prohibit members of Congress and Capitol Hill aides from getting thousands of dollars in subsidies for their health insurance as they join Obamacare-mandated insurance exchanges.

Yet behind-the-scenes, Boehner and his aides worked for months with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others, to save these very same, long-standing subsidies, according to documents and e-mails provided to POLITICO. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was also aware of these discussions, the documents show.

So, we have the Speaker privately doing one thing and publicly doing another, cynically using hard-working congressional staff members as pawns in the game he is playing on behalf of Tea Party crazies.

Given these two stunning examples of a lack of integrity and a lack of honesty on the part of the Speaker of the House, Democrats should have little sympathy for him and should continue to let him twist in the wind of condemnation that is blowing into the Republican House. We can only hope that the Speaker will, in the end, have enough patriotism in his bones not to let the country default on its obligations, even if he has defaulted on his.

Barack Obama: Republican Savior?

“We’re not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.”

—John Boehner, October 6, 2013

Clearly, as MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and others suggested this morning, Republicans have poll-tested the word “conversation,” as applied to the sad impasse in Washington. John Boehner used that word around twenty times during his squirmy 14-minute appearance on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. I took the time to string together his use of the word in order to demonstrate how desperate the Speaker now is:

…we asked to sit down with the Senate and have a conversation…that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation…We’re interested in having a conversation…it begins with a simple conversation…It’s about having a conversation…It’s time for us to sit down and have a conversation…Let’s sit down and have a conversation…It’s not their fault that the leaders in Washington won’t sit down and have a conversation…The president is saying, I won’t negotiate. I won’t have a conversation…Even though President George Herbert Walker Bush had a conversation about raising the debt limit…The nation’s credit is at risk because of the administration’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation…And the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us…And the president is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation…My goal here is not to have the United States default on their debt. My goal here is to have a serious conversation about those things that are driving the deficit and driving the debt up. And the president’s refusal to sit down and have a conversation about this is putting our nation at risk of default…The president canceled his trip to Asia. I assumed — well, maybe he wants to have a conversation…I’m willing to sit down and have a conversation with the President…I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation…I’ve been willing to sit down with the president and have this conversation...George, I’m ready for the phone call. I’m ready for a conversation...

That’s about one and a half per minute! How embarrassing was that appearance? How weak is this Speaker? How dumb is he? Or, rather, how dumb does he think we are?

Republicans in the House started all this madness with a weird jihadist desire to defund and destroy ObamaCare, then they said they would settle for delaying it, and now they say all they want to do is talk to Democrats, or to put it in the revealingly passive construction favored by Boehner, “have a conversation.”

Yikes. John Boehner is a pitifully puny leader whose desperation is apparent to all, except maybe himself. And what he is really asking President Obama to do is to bail him and his Tea Party friends out of a jam, a dangerous jam that threatens to wound the country for a generation or more.

How ironic it is that establishment extremists in the Republican Party need the Scary Negro in the White’s House to make some kind—any kind—of “deal” to get them off the hook and save them from Ted Cruz and the other anti-establishment extremists in the GOP.

How delicious it is that Barack Hussein Obama holds in his socialist, Kenya-birthed hands the fate of the Grand Old Party, which would surely suffer incalculable damage from the economic disorder and chaos its members say they are about to bring upon Americans.

Speaker Boehner confirmed—yes, he confirmed—Stephanopoulos’ characterization of a Treasury Department report saying that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be “unprecedented and catastrophic,” that “credit markets could freeze,” that “the value of the dollar could plummet,” that “U.S. interest rates could skyrocket,” that “the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world,” and that “there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse.”

Stephanopolous asked Boehner, “Do you agree with that assessment?” And the Speaker replied: “I do. And the President is putting the nation at risk by his refusal to sit down and have a conversation.”

Yes, it’s all in the President’s hands. If he would only sit down and talk it would all be over. It’s that simple, said Boehner. Except, of course, it isn’t.

We all know that establishment Republicans are hoping that the President, at the last minute or before, will swoop in with some concession and save them from themselves, from their cowardice, from their failure to stand up in force to the Tea Party nuts they have so willingly used to endlessly attack the President since his election in 2008.

Political pundits are fond of talking about the extremism of a “small” group of Tea Party Republicans in the House. But these pundits rarely make the point that it is Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt and other establishment players that make possible the antics of teapartiers. Establishment Republicans are deathly frightened of what Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity will say about them if they dare to loudly and publicly call out the extremism and stupidity of the anti-establishment zealots that are leading their party, and possibly the country, to ruin. So, they need Barack Obama’s help.

And the President should not help them. I repeat: he should not help them.

Establishment Republicans should do the dirty but necessary work themselves or else risk sullying their party’s name and reputation for years, and elections, to come. A Democratic President should not be the savior of an out-of-control Republican Party, many members of which don’t give a damn about the welfare of the country if it means abandoning their ideological Allah.

The American people finally, if painfully, need to find out what has happened to a once-proud political party, the party, for God’s sake, of Abraham Lincoln. And Americans, many of whom are still suffering from the foolishness of Republican economic philosophy, need to know just how far this very non-Lincolnesque party is willing to go in service to a very strange and destructive god.

God’s In His Heaven And ObamaCare Will Soon Send You To Join Him, Buttsex Or Not

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

—Robert Browning

All’s right with the world alright.

Republicans have shut down the government and Fox “News” is doing what it is that Fox “News” does best.

I strolled past the Republican News Channel this morning and peeked through its fogged-up windows for a couple of minutes. What I saw was a man from the Heritage Foundation, who has written a book on Margaret Thatcher, explain why the Iron Lady would be aghast to even set her saintly peepers on ObamaCare! Yes, this man told Fox viewers that the private business- and free market-loving woman who presided over Great Britain’s genuinely socialist healthcare system would oppose a conservative-inspired scheme in which markets are used to bring in customers to private insurance companies! Only on Fox.

But the worst thing I saw through the fogged-up windows was none other than Betsy McCaughey, former Republican Lieutenant Governor of New York, who Fox used all morning to “explain” ObamaCare to the folks. Just to give you an idea what a bad idea it was to have McCaughey explain the Affordable Care Act to gullible, low-information Fox viewers, I bring you a recent headline from Wonkette:

‘Death Panel’ Inventor Betsy McCaughey Warns Obamacare Will Force Doctors To Ask You About Buttsex

As I said, all’s right with the world.

Cruzosaurus Tex: Sarah Palin With A Penis And A Princeton Pedigree

Every now and then some people will claim they have seen the Loch Ness Monster. Once in a while there will come forth folks who claim they have seen Bigfoot. And now, on the verge of a government shutdown and with the threat of economic doomsday hanging over the country, there are cryptozoologists in Washington who claim they have seen wandering around the capital an elusive creature called Republicanus moderatus.

All weekend I heard people claim they have seen this mythical being, one who is “reasonable” and wants to “govern” the country. But when more sober-minded people look around for evidence of such a being, it soon becomes clear that once upon a time there were Moderate Republicans roaming the streets of Washington, but they are now extinct. They’re all gone. What few there are left in the country at large are hiding out, trying to live off the land until civilization returns to the Republican Party.

Oh, I know that there are some people who want to keep the legend alive, who don’t want to admit that the disappearance from Washington of such a proud species of reasonable Republicans signals that American governance is in trouble, that our tradition of democratic rule is in danger of being lost. But the truth is that a new species, Republicanus extremus, is thundering around Washington like giant ideological lizards, with sweeping tails that awkwardly swipe at things like ObamaCare, which was created by democratically elected legislators and signed into law by a now twice-elected President of the United States.

These giant ideological lizards, with their survival-of-the-fittest mentality, have either stomped on or chased away from Washington any sign of Moderate Republican. And wishful thinking won’t soon bring that endangered species back to the capital to govern. It will take more than that.

cruzosaurus texThe most ideological lizard of them all is Ted Cruz, who is Sarah Palin with a penis and a Princeton pedigree. His day job is in the U.S. Senate, but he is also moonlighting as the de facto Speaker of the House, since the official Speaker has proven incapable of leading the reptilian rabble. Cruz is commanding a very noisy and destructive pack of giant lizard legislators on a quest to destroy democratic governance and tear down American civilization one law at a time, starting with the new law meant to bring tens of millions of Americans into the health insurance system.

The only hope we have, the only way orderly American governance will continue, the only way we can preserve the long-term well-being of the country, is if Democrats in Washington finally and fiercely stand up and fight Ted Cruz and those who have gone to Washington in order to turn the place into Jurassic Park.

Will they? Will Democrats stand and fight? Will they ignore the ridiculous questions from journalists who want to know if Democrats will “compromise” with Republicans, when in truth Democrats have already compromised to the point of near-surrender?

We shall see.

More “Both Sides Are Guilty” Journalism From ABC News

President Obama went to Largo, Maryland, on Thursday and gave a speech about the Affordable Care Act, about how important it is that, In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one should go broke just because they get sick,” about how significant it is that,

on October 1st, millions of Americans who don’t have health insurance because they’ve been priced out of the market or because they’ve been denied access because of a preexisting condition, they will finally be able to buy quality, affordable health insurance.

He talked about many of the virtues of the law, like the free preventive care, like the young folks under 26 who “gained coverage by staying on their parents’ plan,” like the “hundreds of dollars” that older Americans have saved on their medicine, like the money insurance companies were forced to return to families because those medical insurance companies didn’t spend enough on, uh, medical care.

The President mentioned that there are no longer any lifetime limits on coverage, that there is no longer any discrimination allowed for preexisting conditions, nor are companies allowed “to charge women more for their insurance just because they’re women.”

The man who was instrumental in making access to health insurance a “right” for the first time in American history, also talked a lot about how the whole thing will work, beginning next Tuesday, and what folks who need insurance should do to sign up. He talked about the various choices, the costs, and how it is that the “marketplaces” and the “competition, choice, and transparency” that comes with those marketplaces, “are keeping costs down.”

The President, though, also had to talk about the “misinformation” and “confusion” surrounding the law. He noted both the silly and the dangerous efforts by Republicans to repeal it, about all the dumb and hysterical things that they have said about the law, and a quick acknowledgement of the role Fox “News” has played in the campaign against it. (By the way, IQ-slaughtering “Fox and Friends” Friday morning had a segment attacking the President for invoking “slavery” and daring to “divide” the nation!)

Unfortunately, it was mostly the President’s remarks about Republicans that made it onto television and radio news, mainly because many broadcast journalists these days have pretty much given up on educating the public when it comes to politics. Not much of the substance, of the practical advice the President offered to potential beneficiaries of the ACA, was disseminated by broadcast news outlets.

I did, though, see or hear a hundred times the President’s funny allusion to the stupidity of Michele Bachmann, and his oblique reference to the Koch brothers, who are funding a “cynical ad campaign” designed to get young people to not participate in the insurance marketplaces and therefore not have “any health care.”

But of all the journalism I witnessed regarding Thursdays coverage of the President’s speech and the ongoing shutdown and default talk in Washington, the worst was what I saw on ABC’s World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.jonathan karl

The fight over shutting down the government and the dangerous debt ceiling nonsense was the second story on Thursday night’s broadcast. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl had two minutes and he proceeded to make a joke of the entire thing. From beginning to end, it was a piece designed to be more cute than informative, more clever than enlightening.

First, Sawyer introduced the piece by saying,

And now we head to Washington and the growing frustration in the country over another round of name-calling and threats to bring the government to a standstill.

Uh-oh. You can sense that this is going to be another one of those “both sides are guilty” pieces, which enables Republicans to do all the dirty work and only get half the blame. She continued:

We begin with…Jonathan Karl, who tells us what the opposing sides are saying about each other tonight.

Ah, there it is in full-bloom. “The opposing sides” are saying things about each other, and that, of course, is the story. And it got worse. Karl began his piece with a comedic speed-up of video footage of the President making his way to the podium in Maryland, sort of like an old Charlie Chaplin movie. Then Karl said this:

Here we go again: We’ve got a serious president calling his opponents “crazy.”

Huh? Is that any way to start a report on the dangerous game being played by Republicans? Geeze.

Obviously, the President didn’t call anyone crazy, but he did say this:

All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy.  And a lot of it is just hot air.  A lot of it is just politics.  I understand that.  But now the tea party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government, or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history — unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.

If Jonathan Karl had included that soundbite in his report, the public would have learned something important. But he didn’t, so they didn’t. What they learned was that the President called his opponents crazy, which he clearly didn’t do.

In any case, Karl pivoted to the Republican Party, who, he said, were “willing to go to the brink,” by making a lot of policy demands in exchange for a deal. He also used Jon Stewart to take a jab at Ted Cruz.

Then Karl accurately reported that the White House, sensibly, said it will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but the reporter put his own ridiculous Beltway spin on it:

Over at the White House, they’ve decided the best way to strike a deal is not to try…Instead of negotiating, they are name-calling. Today one of the President’s top aides said of Republicans, quote, “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” while Senator Ted Cruz compared those willing to fund ObamaCare with those who appeased the Nazis in the 1940s. That’s where we are, Dianne.

And there you have it. Both sides are equally unreasonable. Both sides are crass name-callers. Karl thinks, and wants his viewers to think, that both sides are engaging in “absurdities”—his word—and therefore both sides are guilty, should the government shut down or should we suffer an economic calamity related to not raising the debt ceiling.

That, my friends, is why Republicans in the House and Senate feel free to play dangerous games with the economy and the stability of the American financial system. That is why they are not afraid to fanatically embrace both their ignorance and ideology and use them to cause chaos in the capital. They understand that, when things turn sour, the Jonathan Karls of journalism will do their best to spread the blame around.

In the meantime, President Obama said on Thursday that as long as he is president,

The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. 

All we are really waiting on now, as Senator Patty Murray said today, is which hostage the Republicans are going to take in order to get their way: the government or the economy, or both. And if one or both of the hostages get shot, count on Beltway journalists to tell the public that the hostage-takers and the hostage-rescuers are both guilty of the crime.

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